This month’s bi-annual Samsung Galaxy Unpacked was supposedly all about AI. AI was front and centre in Samsung’s marketing campaigns and the new S24 Series was supposed to be the next logical step in AI adoption. I get that. In theory, a smartphone is the best place for AI to be actually useful on a day-to-day basis. So, I will start this review with how I went about putting Galaxy AI, as Samsung likes to call its suite of AI features, to the test. For the first time, the incredible hardware that Samsung’s Ultra phone has will be talked about later in the review.
Galaxy AI in action
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra marks a significant leap forward in smartphone AI capabilities, offering a suite of features that leverage artificial intelligence to enhance user experience across various applications. The device’s generative AI enhancements are particularly evident in three main areas: text and translation, photography and editing, and search functionality.
One of the standout AI features is the interpreter mode, which facilitates in-person conversations across languages, making it an invaluable tool for travelers. Additionally, a live translation feature supports real-time language conversion during calls, showcasing Samsung’s commitment to breaking down communication barriers. These are powered by Google’s Gemini Nano foundational model and are actually processed on device, making them faster and, more importantly, accessible even when you are without a data connection. You can download language packs that you need and a small Galaxy AI icon on call shows up on the call screen. As of right now, among Indian languages, only Hindi is supported but the list will be added to, I presume. Trust me it is not perfect, but it does the job reasonably well and is a valuable tool, but in a fairly limited use-case scenario.
When it comes to text messages, the Galaxy S24 Ultra introduces Chat Assist, an AI-driven tool that aids in refining the tone of messages, from professional to casual, ensuring communications convey the intended sentiment. It also checks spelling and grammar. While it does the latter well, it just isn’t very human-like when it comes to tonality. For instance, asking for a casual tone just adds a ton of emojis. The Notes app also benefits from AI, with functionalities like summarization, auto-formatting, and translation integrated into it.
Photography and editing receive a significant boost from AI, with the Galaxy S24 Ultra getting Generative Edit. It allows users to reframe shots or alter compositions with ease. This is something I tried out extensively and I think it might be among the more useful AI tools in the S24 Ultra. The problem however is that it just isn’t very consistent. I was out on an automotive shoot and tried removing cars and people in the background. I could get it to work maybe 50 percent of the time. And even then the results were not great sometimes. For instance, there would be an unwanted shadow in the background from the erased object or even a different object in place of the original one. But in the instances when it worked, it was magic. The edit in itself took anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute, after all Generative Edit relies on sharing and receiving information from the cloud (Google’s Gemini Pro that it employs takes care of the processing here). But once the edits were done, cutouts and generative edits were indeed very well executed.
My favourite feature in the S24 Ultra is definitely Circle to Search. Once you start using it, you wonder why we didn’t have it for so long. Just long press on the home button (or the gesture bar if you use gestures like me) circle or tap what you want to search, and Voila! You have a Google Search open up. In practice it does way too much like a reverse image search, but it does give you the option of adding follow-up questions to whatever you searched for. Like all other generative AI features it has a long way to go before it works flawlessly, but it is still something that I have found myself using fairly regularly.
Design and Display of the S24 Ultra
With that out of the way, what else has changed in Samsung’s flagship? On the design front, not too much. But the changes are meaningful improvements. Its almost completely flat sides are a departure from the last-gen model, maximizing the screen real estate available for drawing, note-taking, and multimedia consumption. This design choice makes it more comfortable to hold and use for extended periods. The use of titanium in the frame hasn’t really resulted in significant weight savings, but I do like the new finishes that are on offer.
The S24 Ultra’s display is as sublime as ever, with an adaptive refresh rate that dynamically switches between 1 and 120Hz depending on the screen’s activity, ensuring smooth transitions and an exceptional viewing experience. At a default resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels, which can be manually adjusted to a stunning 3120 x 1440 pixels, the screen always looks excellent. The new Corning Gorilla Armor coating visibly reduces reflections and is also a lot more resilient. The 6.8-inch screen peaks at 2,600 nits and adjusts brilliantly to changes in ambient light, unlike most other phones. The display in itself, in my opinion, is unmatched right now.
The cameras stay more or less the same, with the exception of the addition of a 50MP 5x telephoto in place of the 10MP 10x sensor that existed before. Samsung made a choice to stick to the same layout on the back and I am not complaining. It looks great and is easily differentiated by its simple, yet elegant back cover design.
Performance and Battery Life of the S24 Ultra
As always, there is top shelf hardware under the hood, with the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip optimized by Qualcomm specifically for this device. This collaboration ensures that the S24 Ultra operates seamlessly, supporting a wide range of demanding applications and games without compromising speed or efficiency. Our review unit has 12GB of RAM and I had no trouble with multitasking or gaming. As with previous-gen Galaxy Ultra models, there were no issues with the device heating up either. When it comes to battery life, even with my heavy usage, I was able to easily get more than a full day’s worth. Charging speeds stay the same at 45W wired.
Photography in the S24 Ultra
On the photography front, the device retains the impressive 200-megapixel main sensor from its predecessor, ensuring high-resolution photos with stunning detail. This is complemented by the 12MP ultrawide that doesn’t compromise on quality either. The new 50MP sensor with 5x optical zoom is an interesting choice, and I like the rationale behind it. The 10x zoom lens isn’t something that you’d use as much, a higher quality, smaller zoom telephoto is something that is bound to be a lot more useful. And understandably, at 5x, the S24 Ultra does a much better job than the S23 Ultra. Images are sharp, with great colours. At 10x, there isn’t as much of a difference as Samsung would like you to believe. But still, it produces some very crisp shots. Samsung’s ProVisual Engine and Super HDR are integrated to boost image quality further, with AI editing tools available to enhance photos during and after shooting. This suite of features ensures that, regardless of the shooting conditions, the S24 Ultra is equipped to deliver visually striking images that are colorful, detailed, and accurate.
That brings us to our verdict. The S24 Ultra is very, very good in every single metric. It is built to last (the seven years of OS updates, and seven years of security updates only add to that notion), has a spectacular display, gets top-shelf cameras and the processing chops to go along with them, has solid, reliable performance and gets a suite of AI features that are useful to a certain extent. Notice that I brought up AI last when it comes to the things that stand out about the S24 Ultra. Don’t get me wrong, the AI features are incredible but that’s not what sets the S24 Ultra apart (the S24 and S24+ also get it, and so will the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro starting tomorrow). Samsung seems to have perfected the flagship Android experience both in terms of software – OneUI is pretty good right now – and certainly in terms of hardware. The asking price of Rs. 1,29,999 is steep, but not much else offers what the S24 Ultra does.